Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Request from Organizers in Ferguson

Perhaps you are like me, and have a deep and long-standing sense of guilt about not going to the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  I have mostly
addressed that regret and shame by working with Mossville Environmental Action Now and experiencing the enduring agony that is the situation for communities of color trying to live (and breathe...) in that state's oil patch.  But it only takes the first five minutes of a situation like Ferguson for that old guilty voice to rise up, with this thought, "I should be there.  I should be there supporting my people!" 

I have learned to not give in to this urge.  And while I am obsessed with the events unfolding around the death of Michael Brown, I have been acutely aware that the Organization for Black Struggle,   a St. Louis-based community organization attempting to create some capacity for long-lasting social justice in "The Lou" and its suburbs.  
Jamala Rogers of OBS (OBS Website)
This has been born out by the following request from the people on the ground who understand the issues, resources and needs available in this critical time. OBS has an important message for us. Beginning, most importantly by asking us to STAY HOME.  
Here's their message, received via Spirit House in Durham, NC. They are an affiliate of Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD).

This from The Organization for Black Struggle in Ferguson:

"First let me say, we are appreciative of the calls and texts of concern for us in the state of Misery. For many of you who responded to the call for funds to support a full-time organizer, we are beyond grateful. The Organization for Black Struggle is now able to put a team on the ground in a more strategic, focuses and sustained way.

Your local comrades have been on the ground since Day One of the uprising--initially providing security for both protestors and small businesses located on the busy strip of West Florissant (now the epicenter of the rebellion)--as well as maintaining surveillance of the militarized police force.

OBS convened a group of over 50 people on Friday--labor, community, student activists-- to coordinate our efforts, to rally around the community demands, and most importantly to began setting in place the processes/mechanisms for Ferguson residents to fight for long-term reforms, i.e. civilian oversight board, etc. We organized a Day of Solidarity yesterday that brought thousands together to rally at the apartment complex and then move to workshops/trainings at Steve's church. 

We fully understand that soon the media will roll out to the next hot issue and battle-fatigue will set in for the residents. With all eyes on St. Louis now, we must maximize our impact in the short run as well as the long run.

You have seen the images and being conscious of the media's spin, you can read between the lines to determine what's bullshit and probably be pretty inaccurate without having to be on the ground. We ask that you use all available avenues to make the epidemic of police murders a national issue.
For comrades asking about how they can support this struggle, here are a few suggestions:
  • Help shape and reframe the narrative around looting; the media and even some well-meaning folks are getting caught up with a small piece of the issue that involves an even small percentage of the thousands who have been in peaceful protest. The focus and blame needs to put squarely on the white power structure in Ferguson for their years of political and economic abuse topped with police abuse.
  • Lift up the serious issue of urban centers being treated as if they're militarized zones. As much as we've talked here about the militarization of the police, seeing was believing. When
    Ferguson? No.  New Orleans, 2005
    the country police showed off their military hardware, most fair-minded people were horrified and now we have more allies than ever before. Just in time! The St. Louis police chief wants drones to be added to a bond issue.
  • We have discouraged people from coming to The Lou for a variety of reasons but understandably folks want to be where the action is. This is a bad habit that the movement needs to break--running all over the country to a fight when the damn fight is in your own backyard. (emphasis mine)  Of course, there are times when a call is put out for people's presence because it's the numbers that are needed. This is an opportunity to connect the Mike Brown murder with all of the other extrajudicial murders in the country. (See Fletcher's recent article in ZNet.) Activists and organizers need to began examining/criticizing policing methods where they live and put some real energy into make these occupying forces accountable.

Lastly, if there's something you hear about Ferguson that needs clarifying or you get information that you think is helpful (like the press release I received on the County Police Chief going to Israel for counter-terrorism training a couple of years!), please feel free to call or to share..."

 So, I'm staying home. Send a donation to Organization for Black Struggle so they can hire an organizer to be in Ferguson and build community capacity to address their own problems. 

For my part,  I'm checking in with one of Akron's local social justice group, Stop the Violence Akron Movement, and putting my efforts at the service of BOLD toward figuring out how we build a movement based on working locally, in our own weed-infested backyards.

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